Early voting begins in Minnesota: Here's what to know

Answers to frequently asked questions, from getting an absentee ballot to going in person
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Friday marks the beginning of early voting for the 2020 general election in Minnesota. 

Because of the ongoing pandemic, it's good to start thinking now about how you plan to vote. Here's what you should know, whether you choose to vote by mail or in person:

Voting by absentee ballot:

Where can I get an absentee ballot?

Minnesotans can request an absentee ballot online at mnvotes.org. This shortcut to the Minnesota Secretary of State website also provides a printable form you can fill out and mail to them to request one. Once you've requested a ballot, you should watch for one in the mail. 

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon said Thursday that his office will be sending out letters to every registered voter this week that hasn't requested an absentee ballot encouraging them to do so, with the letter including a ballot application. This is part of an effort to limit numbers at polling places on Nov. 3 due to COVID-19.

"Order it now, don't wait til October," Simon told BMTN in August. "As soon as you are comfortable, just get it back." 

When do I need to send it in by?

It must be postmarked no later than Election Day, November 3, and received by your county within seven days after. 

Voters can also deliver their ballot to their local election office, which the Secretary of State is encouraging in light of the increased workload postal workers are facing. This is particularly a good idea if Election Day is less than 20 days away, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon told BMTN

You can also have someone else drop it off for you. One person can deliver up to three ballots for other voters at the local elections office. When doing so, the person must present photo identification and provide a signature to county elections staff. 

Please note, do not try to deliver it to your polling place, as this is not the correct location. 

You can also track your ballot here to make sure it gets to its destination on time.

When will it be counted? 

Absentee ballots are processed and the votes are counted as they come in, but specific votes for candidates will not be reported until Election Night.

You can find out more about how your ballot is handled here, courtesy of the Star Tribune. 

How is my identity verified?

The ballot envelope will include a form, or "certificate of eligibility," including space for your driver's license number, state identification number or the last four digits of your social security number (information you give when you register to vote). It will also have a space to indicate if you don't have one of these numbers. 

This will be cross checked with registered voters' absentee ballot application to make sure it's authentic. 

You can register to vote here.

Do I need a witness signature?

If you already registered to vote, you do not need a witness signature this year. With concerns over the pandemic and how that may impact some people's ability to vote by mail (such as if they live alone, especially if they are elderly or immunocompromised), this requirement has been waived. 

However, if you are registering and voting absentee at the same time, you'll need a witness to confirm your residency. To keep your vote anonymous, a separate envelope is provided for the witness signature and registration, which are opened at least 14 days before Election Day this year. 

What if I asked for an absentee ballot but change my mind and vote in person?

You can still do this (provided you haven't already mailed back your ballot!). When you arrive and check in, election officials can cancel the ballot you were sent using an identification code attached to your name in their system, which will prevent you or anyone else from trying to submit the ballot you requested by mail.

A note on misinformation

There has been a lot of misinformation spread about voting by absentee ballot, not least the deliberate confluence of "absentee ballots" and "mail-in ballots." Minnesota has an absentee system where voters have to apply for a ballot. Only a handful of states have universal vote-by-mail, where ballots are automatically sent to voters.

And as for claims of "widespread" voter fraud, voting by mail has been operating successfully for many an election and has grown increasingly popular over the past two decades. Various studies into voter fraud found that most reported incidents of voter fraud are traced to clerical errors or bad data matching practices, and that elections that had been "meticulously studied" for voter fraud found incident rates ranging from 0.0003% to 0.0025%.

Voting in person:

Beginning today, Minnesotans can vote early in-person at their county election office. Many counties also offer additional early voting locations – Minneapolis' is at 980 East Hennepin Ave.

You can find the address of your county election office here.

How can I register?

You can register either online or in person, even on Election Day. If you go in person, you will need to bring an approved document, or a combination of a photo ID and document (full list here), showing proof of residency. 

A registered voter from your precinct can also go with you and vouch that you live within the precinct, which will include signing an oath confirming your address. A registered voter can vouch for up to eight voters. 

If you already registered in the precinct but have changed names or moved within the precinct since the last time you voted, you'll just need to tell the election judge your previous name or address. 

You can register to vote here

What about the coronavirus? Will I need to wear a mask? 

Yes, under the statewide mask mandate, you will be required to wear a mask or face covering to vote indoors. 

If you show up without one, workers will have extra masks on hand. 

If you, for some reason, do not want to wear a mask inside, election staff can assist you in voting outside. In addition, if you are immunocompromised or have another health concern, staff can help you vote outside, even from your car

To prevent the spread of coronavirus at the polls, election officials are following precautions (which were also in place for primary voting) such as promoting social distancing and ensuring pens are sanitized between uses. 

Have more questions? Here's a link to the Secretary of State Election Day information section.

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